Behind the boutiques on West Hollywood’s Melrose Ave. is a psychedelic world of graffiti art. It’s mostly invisible to the casual shopper and cars passing by on the street. Although Melrose Ave. has an outdoor art gallery of its own with high profile street art pieces, a flip in personality happens in Melrose Alley, from family friendly work to edgier graffiti art.
Graffiti contrasts with street art in that it’s often a secret language or writing style that can be read by insiders, but not to the average person. Street art can be understood by most people. The street and alley sides of Melrose demonstrate visibly how the two art languages—graffiti and street art—prosper in co-existence. They offer a stark contrast to each other, only a few feet away.
One prominent graffiti crew, CBS Crew, rules much of the Melrose Alley roost. A CBS Crew sign, for example, warns oblivious taggers and defacer graff’ writers to remember that these walls belong to CBS (complete with video monitoring). In general, on Melrose, a sense of defending one’s territory from imitators runs under the surface. The apparent threat is out-of-city artists, who can bring a more capitalistic feel.
The street art-driven Melrose Ave. has long been a public art think-tank of sorts in the backyard of L.A.’s bourgeoisie. An experimental yet suburban vibe is evident; in mixed media pieces, for example, like a high school science project. Effigies to Goldie Hawn, Jimi Hendrix, and Madonna are Melrose Ave. highlights. In other parts of L.A., graffiti often mocks Hollywood. Melrose Alley, by contrast, is all about graffiti writing. The letter-bending intricacy runs a large spectrum, from complex to easily readable.
Here are 10 favorite photos from my collection—mostly taken at night, ideal for graffiti pictures—from Melrose Alley. —Nicholas White
Can’t Be Stopped
CBS Crew is at its colorful and strongest with “Can’t Be Stopped,” by artists Joey Tyer and Take. The brightly enhanced colors elevate the intensity of the crew piece. CBS Crew has several different acronym-style permutations: this one is “Can’t Be Stopped.” From a technical perspective, painting a compelling image on curved metal is more difficult than a flat wall. Closer inspection destroys the image’s illusion. These guys are professional, though: the image pops, and is consistent with the message of keeping things moving.
One of my favorite graffiti writers is CBS Crew’s Joey Tyer (as referenced above), who takes center stage with this bold 3D piece. It’s some of the most impressive 3D work I’ve seen. The concept is mind-blowing—think how difficult it is to paint your kitchen, for example. This is paint coming off a wall, a George Lucas-like jump forward in graffiti technology. The cherry on top: Tyer’s smoking ogre character, bringing a sinister energy of his own.
CBS Crew’s Rat with Blue Ears
Detailed 3D graffiti of the most precise order—it’s from CBS Crew (notice a pattern?). Pinpoint delicate color transition detail on the rat’s ear goes from pink to gray seamlessly. The whacked out rat non-sequitur concept—a familiar sight, yet new, snatched from the ethos—adds to the otherworldly vibe. Craftsmanship is what separates this piece.
Blue Head with Light and Angel
A relatively standard piece that explodes into something else with nighttime light. The light gives purpose to the main character, and makes it look all the more pernicious and angry. For the assist, the angel looks into the light, tying things together into a narrative. It would not look as cool in the daytime. The paint technology isn’t particularly outstanding, and neither is the art—but Melrose Alley’s night-friendly lighting does the heavy lifting.
What’s it like to look into the eyes of a killer? Here you can, as imagined by hate-to-love-him pop street artist Alec Monopoly. If you don’t recognize the subject’s face, it’s that of Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, the homicidal business man from American Psycho. It’s possible to dismiss Monopoly as just making money off someone else’s creation. Think about the creative energy you’re looking at: an up close look at a killer’s face. The perfect art accoutrement for a high-earning sociopathic businessman’s walls.
A traditional street art piece, but one that lends itself to emotionality—isolation, rejection, youth. The boy’s silhouette walking pattern is one of street artist Icy and Sot’s most recognizable creations. It’s debatable to blur the graffiti part of the picture, but the distortion creates an idea of separating from city noise. What’s great about this location is how it connects with passersbys…buried in an alley.
Self Uno Sci-Fi
A well-executed, creative piece from one of CBS Crew’s best writers, Self Uno. It’s an original concept: a 1950s sci-fi movie with a mad scientist cooking up a potion, to the side of an Archie-style couple. Self’s name is scattered in a few other pieces around Melrose Alley—but this is his biggest starring role. The piece is also user-friendly, as the graffiti writing is simple enough for grade school kids to read.
Cobra Crew with Light Shining
A nicely timed beam of moonlight shining on CBS Crew’s cobra motif (Cobra is another wordplay on CBS.) It’s like looking at a caged snake in the dark, with a single ray of light. The cobra motif is well placed in this dark parking lot, creating a sense of vulnerability. The lettering is not so heavily distorted that the average viewer can’t read it. If they know what they’re looking for, they can.
This photo’s detail has several treatment stages—it looks changed, but purposefully so. Dragons are fairly common in graffiti art, as they connote “tough,” and thus by themselves are not particularly noteworthy. What separates this dragon (and all graffiti dragons) in quality is its ferocity. How complicated or angry it looks determines quality. The colors’ psychedelic effect adds extra menace; here the fiery red looks like the pit of a volcano.
The Running Man
This futuristic look at combat, with a robot kneeling down with weapons, looks like something out of The Running Man or Riddick. Darkness is a must for a piece like this. Robots doing battle in an apocalyptic setting is the right tone for alley art. Mildly frightening—yet exciting—possibilities are myriad.